Three Insights from Cutting it Straight Intensive 2024

Recently, Greg Keelen and I attended a two-day preaching intensive called “Cutting it Straight” with Pastor H.B. Charles. It yielded a few ideas for my study process. Here’s what I’m experimenting with:

Sermon Sentences

Prompts for condensing the mass of ideas derived in study are so valuable. Here are four sermon sentences (with examples from 2 Cor 9) that H.B. Charles uses to arrive at the core of a message:

  • The Summary Sentence - “Paul lifted up an example of a godly church to a carnal church through highlighting their generosity”
  • The Main idea - “A godly church is a generous church”
  • The Probing Question - “What does godly generosity look like?” or “How does a generously godly church act?”
  • The Transitional Statement - “I want you to see three demands of every Christian who is to be generous”

Written Sermon Manuscripts

I’ve never been a fan of manuscript sermons. I found them to be difficult to preach and hear. Too many words on the page makes it difficult to keep track of where you are and be engaging in presentation at the same time. Both of which make for hard listening.

Surprisingly, the challenge to write a manuscript was central to the intensive. Pastor Charles positioned and encouraged it in a different way, he said “Write yourself clear.” I’m all about that!

From an outline, I’m practicing writing a word-for-word manuscript. It ends up being 3,000 words or so. Here’s some initial thoughts after doing this for three messages:

  • Manuscripting reveals where my thinking and explanations aren’t very clear. So helpful to have the challenge to think through tough explanations beforehand.
  • Manuscripting improves how the message flows together.
  • Manuscripting helps me see where I might be too heavy or light on illustration.
  • Manuscripting has shown me that my messages are trying to cover too much ground. They are simply too long!

On that last point, Pastor Charles said a 2,500 word manuscript is enough for a 30 min message. At 3,000+ words, we’re getting into the 35-40 min range. 😬

One other challenge: after writing the manuscript and laboring over so many details, I don’t want to forget anything! I need to practice working the manuscript back into an outline to take to the pulpit.

Before trying out manuscript writing, I had a fairly detailed outline that spanned 6-8 half-sheets. I’m considering going to an even more condensed outline, a single sheet or half sheet.

Handling of Study Materials

Even with tools like Logos, Pastor H.B. has his study materials printed each week to work through on paper. I tried that out and have enjoyed the more analogue process!

! [[ printed-study-materials.webp ]]

It starts with searching for relevant materials in Logos. Then, I print sections for reading and highlighting. Finally, I re-open the best material in Logos and copy it over to Obsidian.

I still write messages and keep my study notes in Obsidian, so to integrate with Obsidian, I’ve been making use of Logos links (cmd + opt + c) to jump back to where I read something or to reference a book location for future use.

Bonus: High, Middle, Low Explanation

There’s an art to explanations and defining terms. Pastor Charles had a great way of thinking about the way he words his explanations. Instead of crafting only one explanation, he uses explains the same term or idea three ways starting with the more technical or academic and progressively simplifying the language to be more approachable.

Here’s an example from the intensive:

  • High - God is omnipresent
  • Middle - He’s everywhere all the time
  • Low - He’s not late, tardy, or absent

Here’s one of my attempts at this method for the idea of grace understood as strength:

  • High - “the active communication of divine blessings by the inworking of the Holy Spirit, out of the fulness of him who is ‘full of grace and truth’” - L Berkhof
  • Middle - The Holy Spirit applies to us all the benefits that Christ bought for us.
  • Low - God doesn’t just forgive us in salvation, but he comes to live in us for the day-by-day walk of following of Jesus.

I have a long way to go!

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